Clay County residents raise concerns over security in, around Orange Park Mall

People in Clay County say they're concerned about security in and around the Orange Park Mall. This comes after a scare over the weekend, when a fight inside the mall had some thinking it was a possible active shooter situation.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Clay County residents are raising concerns about security in and around the Orange Park Mall.

This comes after a scare over the weekend when a fight inside the mall was confused for a possible active shooter situation. There was no shooter, but this is the latest negative headline for the mall, which saw similar chaos after fights broke out at a carnival outside the mall in August.

Headlines like these are why shoppers like Kristin Sidders have been leery of the area.

“We don’t hardly go at all anymore between all the ruckus, all the kids being all over the place. It’s not like it used to be. No order. It’s not really safe. I don’t feel comfortable taking my daughter up there anymore,” said Sidders.

News4JAX talked Tuesday with people from at least three counties who come to the mall to shop. They say it’s easier than going into Jacksonville, but with the huge amount of people come occasional high-profile problems.

Also, News4JAX has been speaking with county and business leaders who are frustrated because they’ve been making efforts to improve the area. County leaders say the negative press they’ve seen lately with respect to safety is a problem.

“It’s hard. A lot of them are sitting in this room right now, and I have to go up to them and say it’s a tough week,” said Clay County Chamber of Commerce President Wendell Chindra, who spoke Tuesday at a holiday celebration for community and business leaders. “The mall folks and business community around there, they’re trying to build some positive momentum when things like this happen.”

Chindra points to the “Gateway to Clay” initiative that business and community leaders have spearheaded to improve the Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road corridor, but they keep running into roadblocks. In the last year, News4JAX has reported on stories about crime spikes on Wells Road and panhandling issues nearby on Blanding Boulevard. Now, with the mall problems, Chindra says they’re applying for grants to help fund improvements.

“Big issues, homelessness, mental health, drug issues — everything’s happening kind of in that area. What we recognize is the only way we can stop some of these issues is if we all get together and collaborate,” Chindra said.

On Tuesday, the Orange Park Mall released the following statement to News4JAX about its security practices:

“At Orange Park Mall the safety of our guests, retailers and employees is always paramount and our first priority. We take a holistic approach to safety with our industry best practices and programs, which include our own security force 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on foot and in vehicles, and other modern security procedures, special operations plain clothes officers from time to time, crisis planning, and lockdown drills. We also have a strong relationship with local law enforcement including an on-site police presence . Guests are encouraged to contact security at 904.269.1662 with any concerns, questions or issues they may have. It’s important if you see something, to say something. We take these actions to promote a safe environment for everyone.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is very involved with the “Gateway to Clay” initiative, and Chindra says deputies have been meeting with multiple business owners to figure out how to improve the area. He says incidents like what happened Sunday at the mall are unusual and not common — now they have to improve public perceptions of the area.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.